Dw DUNPHY: Well, now that Syria has vanished from the front pages, Big Tea has refocused on the fight they really wanted: Running the government into a brick wall. Praise the lord and pass the ammo.
JON CUMMINGS: Unfortunately, the polls show that Republicans have attained one of the key goals of their “governance”-by-crisis shenanigans of the last three years: Large numbers of Americans now believe that government is incapable of playing a healthy or positive role in dealing with the big issues, such as job creation, health care and rising income inequality. Operating on Chaos Theory since 2011 – since 2007, really – the GOP has convinced the public that chaos is all that’s possible.
The flipside of that is that senior and/or sane Republicans (and when we’re calling Mitch McConnell “sane,” we’re really off the reservation) recognize that a government shutdown or a credit default would be too much chaos for the public to bear. If the GOP were simply to make no waves between now and November 2014, the midterm election of a president’s second term usually is cataclysmic for his party (see: 2006). But even Boehner and Cantor, despite caving to the Crazy Caucus last week, recognize that a shutdown or a debt-ceiling meltdown – particularly if it’s over Obamacare, a topic that the electorate recognizes is played out as a political issue – likely would turn the tables on history, and result in Democrats fending off disaster or even making gains.
Trouble is, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann and Louie Gohmert and the other occupants of the clown car don’t care about all that. They just want the chaos. As we publish, Cruz is in the middle of a talking filibuster that has no chance of succeeding legislatively, but is catnip to the World War Z-ish mobs in the Tea Party streets. The crazies have put Boehner in a corner, and with just five more legislative days left before shutdown – heck, Cruz’s filibuster likely will leave Boehner with just a few hours to shove the Senate’s square peg through the House Tea-Party cornhole – I’m not sure even Swayze could help him stick the lift. (Ed.: There’s a mixed metaphor for you … Dirty Dancing, Square Pegs, and a Tea Party cornhole?!?)
Meanwhile, President Obama – having won the non-war, but seemingly having lost the PR battle over Syria – came into this latest fight with his pants down (though not in a Weiner sort of way), but with two simple positions. 1) I’m not negotiating again over the debt ceiling. 2) I’m never giving in on Obamacare – or, to put it another way, I’M NEVER GIVING IN ON OBAMACARE!
DwD: Maybe we need someone else to come up with an idea and have Obama gravitate toward it. It worked on gay equality (that was a Biden “oopsie” to start with) and Syria (Kerry’s bluff-turned-tactical motion). It feels like any major change in the mindmap has to come from the outside in. Perhaps there is an external force that can reason/extort/blackmail the congressional Juggalos into giving up this horrendous fight before the weekend.
And yes, it is a little terrifying to think of McConnell as a “voice of reason.” By now, he must be painting his Depends with visions of what this will do to Republicans in the next election cycle.
JON: Dw., I’ve got a shiny nickel that’s all yours if you give me three Photoshopped images of GOP stalwarts as Juggalos. Of course, I spent most of 2009-2011 shredding Republicans for their Joker-Obama images, so maybe we should refrain. Ironic, isn’t it? Because if there’s one thing the current GOP will be remembered for, it’s their bizarre taste for wanton, nihilist destruction. And they liked to portray the other guy as the Joker.
TED ASREGADOO: I’ve been reading about how this is a last-ditch effort to show the Republican “base” that their public servants are doing God’s work. The so-called Kamikaze tactic is something that seems to fit what’s going on with House Republicans right now. For those 40 Republicans who are bucking the GOP “leadership,” it must be a heady experience to know that a small minority can do so much (potential) damage to the economy because of ideological purity — or just plain hatred of Obama and Democrats in general. It’s clear that Obama is pretty much over GOP chaos tactics. Now, with his hollow victory in Syria (poor guy can’t even get credit for keeping us out of war), perhaps he should let surrogates take the lead in proposing a PR offensive (because, you know, much of this is played out in the media) on how Republicans are anti-American nihilists who want to destroy the village in order to save it.
JON: What surrogates, exactly? Are there any? (Besides Bill Clinton, of course, with whom Obama had such a cozy dialogue yesterday in Manhattan … one that probably didn’t change a single mind about Obamacare one way or the other.) One key to Obama’s success with the electorate, but also to his simultaneous struggles with Congress and the Democratic Party at large, is that he has cultivated a perception of standing outside, and above, the political fray on both sides of the aisle – beginning with Obama for America morphing into Organizing for America (rather than folding into the DNC) and extending to his perceived lack of effort to “woo” congressmen and senators socially. But I’m digressing from your point…
TED: The other thing the Obama Administration needs to do is explain how the Affordable Care Act will help bring costs down on health insurance. There was a piece in Time magazine about how Trader Joe’s — which provides health insurance to part-time employees — is going to cut that benefit because under the Affordable Care Act, employees would pay less than than they do on the company’s plan. Plus, Trader Joe’s is cutting checks for $500 for each part-time employee to further help them buy insurance through the healthcare exchanges. Time obtained a corporate email from Trader Joe’s that explained their reasoning behind the decision:
The email offers the example of a single mom making $18 an hour working 25 hours a week who currently pays $166.50 per month for her Trader Joe’s coverage. With the tax credits under the ACA, the message says, she can get nearly identical insurance for roughly half that under an Obamacare health insurance exchange. Add to that the $500 she’ll get in January, and the bleak picture of lost benefits starts to change rather dramatically.
Now, if this is accurate, then this is a huge savings for a sector of the population. If you do the math, through the Trader Joe’s plan, this “single mom” pays $1,998 per year in her employee “contribution” to health insurance. (By the way, I don’t know what family plan charges such cheap rates, but let’s just take their numbers at face value.) So now, “Single Mom” under the ACA is going to pay $999 a year? And with the extra $500 (if she uses the money on insurance) will lower the cost an additional $41.66 a month? Really? So now “Single Mom” only pays $499 a year for insurance? To me, this sounds too good to be true, but since “Single Mom” only makes $18 an hour and works only 25 hours a week, her gross income is just over $21,000. I don’t know how she’s making it, but let’s just say she is (perhaps she’s getting SNAP payments — which Republicans in the House have cut), then maybe, just maybe, she can cover rent and insurance.
Oh, boy, I think I’m starting to paint myself into a math corner with all these “what ifs,” but this insurance deal sounds a little too good to be true. I hope it is that good, because many people who are just getting by on part-time work certainly need help. And maybe that’s why Republicans are so opposed to the ACA. If it helps the number of people it’s supposed to, these folks are going to thank the party who fought and implemented it. And who knows, many of those folks might be in the very districts where Republicans hold a lead.
JON: Isn’t the Republican counter to the Trader Joe’s story going to be, “Oh, great! Now the Trader Joe’s welfare queen will be able to save money on insurance – but only because I’m going to be subsidizing her with my taxes”? (Never mind that the new taxes are not structured to hit the vast majority of middle-class GOP voters … whatever the Koch Brothers say, those voters will say as well.)
DwD: Let’s go back to Spine Of Jello Boehner, and his decision to throw sanity to the wind by agreeing to tie the budget resolution to Obamacare defunding – after Washington spent weeks talking about how he needed to rein in his caucus. He really is a cowardly sack of chicken.
TED: Boner … sorry, Boehner … wants to keep his job!
DwD: Yet he is widely rumored to be stepping down by the end of the year, presumably for some cushy K-Street lobbying gig. Here is is final moment where he could have said, “You idiots have brought me nothing but embarrassment during my term(s). We’ve presided over one of the most ineffectual congressional situations in recent history. We have produced nothing near a program, policy or concept that has added to the benefit of the American people. We’ve said ‘no’ more often than the average 3-year-old. We’ve flushed our chances again and again at regaining the White House because of you ignorant, backwater goons. Well, this time, I’m walking out of here with my head held high. You’re all nuts.”
Nah … Tuck and roll, Johnny B. Tuck and roll.
JON: Since Boehner decided not to be the bigger man here, it has to be Obama. Obviously, events are going to continue shifting beneath our feet over the next few days and weeks, but Obama needs to maintain his current, inflexible posture in responding to the budget and debt-ceiling bills. In fact, he may need to lay down the law even more stridently before the weekend. “In the next five days it’s up to the Republican House to decide whether a shutdown is right for the country, because they’re the only ones arguing for it.” How simple is that? “If you fail to raise the debt ceiling by the required date, I will take it out of your hands and direct the Treasury to continue paying the nation’s bills without your authorization. There will be no compromises, and you will have lost that responsibility … which isn’t in the Constitution anyway. If you don’t like it, you can sue me, and the Supreme Court can sort it out.”
This can, and should, be the moment when Obama loses his reputation as a too-eager-to-compromise “squish” (to use the fave GOP-loon term of the moment) and takes this entire situation in hand. If he simply states his positions as faits accompli, and dares the House to defy him, he’ll accomplish many things at once. Reagan did it by saying, “Go ahead – make my day.” Schwarzenegger, here in Cahleefornya, did it by calling his opponents “girly men.” Perhaps Obama, just to jab the rednecks, should do it with a rousing “They call me MISTER Tibbs!”
TED: Wait. Paying the nation’s bills as part of Congress’ responsibilities isn’t in the Constitution? Article I, Section 8 is about the fiscal duties of Congress, which includes “…to pay the debts.”
JON: Frequent legislation to increase the debt ceiling is not in the Constitution. It is a mechanism invented in 1917 to allow the government to pay for WWI through Liberty Bonds, and then a largely uncontroversial formality for a century before Republicans lost their minds. (Though apparently it was not quite the strings-never-attached rubber-stamp that Obama recently claimed it was.)
TED: I don’t think this is constitutionally settled (i.e., the President having the authority to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling). On the face of it, it seems to fall under the authority of Congress — since, you know, our republic has been financing wars and all sorts of things by going into debt. Anyway, I get your point on the Liberty Bonds and WWI. My guess is that Republicans would love it if Obama acted unilaterally, so they could set in motion articles of impeachment and tie him up for the rest of his term. This, of course, would begin by having the Supreme Court decide if Obama had the authority to go around congressional authority and raise the debt ceiling on his own. Considering the so-called “original intent” wing of the court, I’m sure they would find such an act unconstitutional. Whether it’s an impeachable offense is another thing…
On defunding the ACA, it’s something that even Rove cautions against. The Washington Post had an opinion piece that quoted some of the findings from a Crossroads GPS (Rove’s company) survey of independents who are in Republican-leaning districts, and they are pretty much against any attempts by the GOP to defund the ACA — even if they aren’t the biggest fans of the law. What this means, in terms of the midterms, is that Republican could potentially lose seats in 2014 if they continue to try and defund the ACA. Moreover, if those 40 GOP’ers who have forced Boehner to vote for this stupid bill that ties the defunding of the ACA with paying our bills (and a possible government shutdown), Rove’s findings suggest it’s the GOP who will pay for this come 2014.
Jon, I think you’re right about Obama stepping up and saying “no compromise” on the ACA or paying our bills, but I’m not sure it’s in his political nature to do so. Then again, it’s possible he may surprise us.
JON: I feel an urgent need to digress from the GOP’s attempts to defund Obamacare, and instead discuss its attempts to sabotage the ACA’s implementation. Specifically, I want to talk about this:
For a couple months now, it has been clear that once the exchanges actually come into existence on October 1, a key Republican strategy will be to try to convince young adults not to purchase health insurance through the exchanges, but instead to pay the penalty/tax (which, within two years, will probably cost as much as a typical healthy person’s insurance under the exchanges). Until this past week, I figured that strategy was relatively shrewd, to the extent it could appeal to young people’s narcissism and sense of immortality, but probably ineffective (since young people are demographically the Americans most on board with ACA).
But then these commercials emerged, created by a Koch Brothers-funded, astroturf “young people’s group.” These ads, I think, are a really bad idea – like, Miley-on-the-MTV-awards bad. They’re not effective in making some point about government getting between a young patient and her doctor (whom, presumably, the patient would never see if she opts out of Obamacare). Nor is there a smidgen of reality to the notion of a twentysomething guy getting a prostate exam from a doctor, under Obamacare or anybody else’s care. These ads are just repulsive. They’re gross! And they’re the kind of dick move that will force young people to turn away from the Republican Party even more than they already have. They look like the death throes of a party that’s lost all touch with every emerging American demographic.
TED: As far as effective advertising goes, I think these ads fail to convince anyone to opt out of the ACA. If anything, they will convince people not to get even a routine checkup because, it seems, the doctors can’t even figure out how to tell a patient how to put on a gown for annual gynecological exam (my wife was telling me that you tie the gown in the back). Nor, as you point out, can a doctor figure out that a person in his mid- to late 20s doesn’t need a prostate exam. The right-wing groups are, however, effective in getting videos to go viral and getting people talking about them. The “opt out” message is sort of muddled. I know they are trying to scare young people from signing up for insurance through the exchanges, but nowhere in the ad is there the message they really want to tell young folks: “Just pay the fine for not having insurance, and live free!” The Nation had a good article on how “Generation Opportunity” is some stupid front for getting young people to “Just Say No…to Healthcare,” but like I said earlier, I don’t think it’s going to convince many young people. I’ll say this for the right, though: they know how to get attention and use the culture of the Internet (“Be shocking…all the time”) much more effectively than those on the leftish end of the spectrum.
JON: Well, to transition back on point, I think the phrase “be shocking all the time” reflects the New Normal that the Republicans have foisted upon the country. We can bitch and moan about their tactics all we want, but to do so requires us to point out that they are operating outside of tradition, outside of ethics, outside of sanity. And it requires us to imagine, if not assume, that those things can someday be restored. What if they can’t? What if three or four showdowns a year, and “governing” from crisis to crisis, is all we can look forward to from here on?
I mean, look – Republicans, in all likelihood, aren’t going to lose their House majority through the rest of the decade, because the GOP base is (if anything) crazier than the people it elects across the South and the plains states. Those folks aren’t going to recover their sanity. They’re gone. They believe that holding the government and the economy hostage to ideology is not only acceptable, but essential, and they’re probably not going to turn on the “legislators” who behave like hooligans on their behalf. The best hope for turning red states blue, or even more moderately red, is for demographic changes (increased Latino populations in Texas) that won’t reach fruition until 2020 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, we on the left can sit here and insist that we’re above the Republicans’ rape-and-pillage behavior — that we wouldn’t pull this kind of shit if the power positions were reversed. But why wouldn’t we, now that the feral cat is out of the bag? The GOP’s ideology is now so far to the right that, if Republicans took the Senate and kept the House in 2014 – and particularly if they also took the White House in 2016 – we could expect nothing but horrifically bad policy to emerge. Wouldn’t Democrats go to the barricades – filibuster, shutdown, the whole nine yards – to prevent an Obamacare repeal, particularly when it would mean actually throwing millions off of exchange-provided healthcare rolls? Wouldn’t we burn down the government if it meant upholding workers’ rights to organize, or keeping Republicans from disenfranchising millions of minorities, students and poor people?
TED: Considering the way Democrats put up a non-fight over the war in Iraq and the policies of the Bush Administration when it came to both domestic and foreign policy, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a filibuster/shutdown/obstructionist Democratic Party. They have shown that they are not a party of zealots, and would rather focus on governance than remain wedded to bedrock beliefs. There’s some talk in union circles (private unions) that they may start to support local, non-Democratic Party candidates who are pro-labor. Now, if unions are thinking of tapering their support for the DNC, it’s clear that the party has very little they would “die for” — and many in their base know it.
JON: I don’t know, Ted. Now that the Republicans have dumbed down the notion of partisan opposition, the same way they dumbed down impeachment during the ’90s and war-making during the ’00s, is there any going back? Personally, I don’t believe the Republicans will win the presidency again for at least another decade – the demographics argue against it, and they’re doing absolutely nothing to shift the demographic tide in their favor. Still, it’s entirely possible that the Republicans, in the last two Congresses, have remade our legislative process in a profoundly negative, zero-sum fashion that will be impossible to undo, even if a straight white guy is the next president.
Can the republic survive it? For that matter, can we survive another few hours of listening to Ted Cruz bloviate?